In this industry, the term "creative thinkers" is traditionally reserved for the temperamental, pampered, black-clad inhabitants of an agency's creative department.

Meanwhile, the "number crunchers" in the media department were over-looked, over-worked and under-utilized.

Well, you've come a long way, baby! The tide has turned, and while media departments may still be over-worked, that's where many of today's most creative advertising campaigns are being conceived.

Hugh Dow, president of Toronto's M2 Universal, says media is no longer an afterthought. In the cross-platform area in particular, the communication channels have to be established before the creative is developed, which, he says, is a complete shift from the historical way of handling ad campaigns.

As M2 Universal adds a second consecutive gold win to its tally, it will continue developing convergence campaigns, but also expect the agency to be among the first to make use of interactive television. Dow is convinced that commercial breaks will be increasingly seen as artificial interruptions, and that finding ways to harness content makes for better connections with consumers.

"As we move into a whole new media environment where consumers can avoid the conventional commercial break, I think we have to start experimenting with how we become an intrinsic part of the content," he says. "Not in a transparent advertorial way, but in working and creating content that we know is relevant and of interest to the target group. It's a whole new arena and it opens up a whole new era for media practitioners."

But agencies can only push the boundaries as far as the marketers will let them. Because of that, Dow is thankful that M2 boasts supportive clients that have encouraged the agency to push the envelope.

Clients have realized that media is a critical component of their marketing efforts and, Dow says, their relationships with M2 Universal are now much more direct.

"You can't execute content and cross-platform programs in a hierarchical or complex organizational structure," says Dow. "You've got to be able to develop relationships with key people on the client and the media owner sides. We're working with people we've never worked with before - newspaper columnists and TV production people. These are people we didn't have direct connections with before."

The M2 Universal formula seems to be working: the agency added almost $100 million in new billings this year, and spending for 2002 is projected to be just under $600 million. In 2003, Dow says, that number will be even higher, thanks to a banner year when it comes to winning new business.

Among those wins are Sony Canada (including theatrical), Maytag Canada, United Parcel Service, Germany-based candy maker Storck Canada, the Toronto Blue Jays and Wendy's Canada.

On the other side of the tally board, the agency lost Bacardi and Reckitt Benckiser, which moved on because of a conflict under the Interpublic Group umbrella (Initiative Media) with S.C. Johnson.

Dow says the agency will be heading into the coming year with more leverage, but warns that clout - the driving force for agency and media-owner consolidations - is not all clients are looking for.

"The business is now consolidated with a handful of mega-media buying companies, but leverage really is a major-league requirement just to play," says Dow. "Creativity is how you position yourself within that arena. That creativity is something that is more and more research-based. That will be the next global battleground."

The convergence drive continues

This year, M2 Universal once again attracted industry attention for its signature use of convergence or cross-platform programs. Following last year's success with CanWest Global for RBC Group, the agency plunged into "Innovating Tomorrow," a new program created for General Motors' Cadillac brand which kicked off last March. The campaign is currently in its second wave and will continue into 2003.

The goal

Ostensibly designed to launch the 2003 Cadillac CTS and support the unveiling of other new models, the campaign also represents a total repositioning of the brand. Cadillac wanted to cast off a rather stodgy image and position itself to attract new consumers - younger but equally affluent and successful.

The strategy

Research into this younger group led to the discovery of two key drivers in the lives of the target: technology and innovation. These are both areas of interest and integral components in their business and home lives.

Hugh Dow, president of M2 Universal, says from this came the "big idea," and the three planks in the campaign platform: Innovation in Technology, Innovation in Design and Innovation in Business.

But instead of looking for existing media vehicles to suit the theme, M2 Universal went to Bell Globemedia to create content.

The execution

An outside production company was hired to develop three 30-minute television programs around the innovation topics. Some General Motors technology and design advancements were featured in the programming, but many other topics and innovations were covered as well. The programming appeared on CTV, Discovery and ROBTv - and Cadillac commercials were placed throughout the programs.

The second step was to pull Cadillac-sponsored vignettes from that content to air for the run of the campaign. Then, in conjunction with each TV special, complementary inserts were created and placed in The Globe and Mail.

These initiatives were supported by a major presence on the Bell Globemedia Web sites, especially the Globe and Mail and Sympatico sites, complete with an online contest and site-specific content exploring technology and design in depth.

All of the pieces were woven together by cross-promotional messages, which included banner ads in The Globe and Mail promoting the upcoming TV specials and TV programming pushing people to the Web sites.

The complex mix of media also included Bell Globemedia magazines Report on Business and Globe Television.

The results

Dow won't reveal hard numbers, but says the campaign is definitely working. "All I can tell you is that Cadillac sales are very strong and all of the tracking surveys we have in place show some real strength in consumer awareness of what we're doing and its relevance." PS